James P. Rice began his tenure with HIAS in 1955 to assist in the merger of HIAS, the United Service for New Americans, and the Migration Department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee into the new United HIAS Service. Rice had worked for the Joint over the previous 10 years, most of which he spent in Europe helping to resettle Jews displaced during the war. Towards the end of his time at the Joint, Rice was assigned to Switzerland as the liaison to the International Refugee Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration.
The consolidation of the three organizations into United HIAS Service marks a turning point in European migration following the war. Under Rice’s leadership, HIAS closed many of its European field offices and began shifting its resources to North Africa, opening branch offices in Tangier and Casablanca. HIAS House in the Negev opened in Beersheba in August of 1955, around the same time Rice was brought on board, to serve as a hostel for new immigrants to Israel, especially scientific and technical workers who could help develop Israel’s southern region.
Born in 1913 and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Rice attended the nearby Western Reserve University, where he is said to have been a “star medium-distance runner and competed in the 1932 Olympic Trials” (Tribune). He graduated in 1934 and continued at Western Reserve to receive his masters in Social Administration in 1936.
Major migration events during Rice’s time as Executive Director include the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, independence in Morocco and Egypt, the Cuban revolution, the revolution in Belgian Congo, and increasing anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment Communist Romania and in Syria and Lebanon.
Rice left HIAS in 1966 and moved to Chicago to become executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, overseeing its merger with the Jewish Welfare Fund. According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “he represented the federation at the White House during the signing of the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Egypt and Israel.” Rice retired in 1979, but he continued to work as a consultant for organizations such as the United Jewish Appeal and Chicago’s Council for Jewish Elderly. He died in in 1997. He was 84.
- I-363, Records of HIAS, unprocessed, American Jewish Historical Society.